Five Experimental Recordings

Anna Heflin

The Redundancy of the Angelic: An Interluding Play

Shannon Reilly, Emily Holden, violins; Anna Heflin: viola, voice, composer, writer

Infrequent Seams cassette and download

“I’m sitting on a galaxy. Stars and moons blanket the deep red spa chairs. I rest on constellations. Space itself supports me. Luna lifts me.”

Thus begins Anna Heflin’s debut recording, which encompasses a spoken word play, sound art, and string duets filled with secundal dissonances and sustained drones. Heflin acknowledges a debt to Mozart in the violin/viola duo textures of the music, as well as to Bartôk’s own dissonant writing, but these touchstones do not encompass the variety of microtones and the scratching textures that are brought to bear in her music. The spoken word interludes range from the spaciness in the above quote to more mundane questions about everyday life. The Redundancy of the Angelic is an unusual assemblage, but a quite compelling one. 

Claire Rousay

A Softer Focus

American Dreams Records

Claire Rousay creates sound collages that combine spoken word, ambient sounds, and warm synths. Place making is a central issue of A Softer Focus, her latest recording on American Dreams. Crackling street noise in “Preston Avenue” introduces us to Rousay’s varied sound world. It is followed by a contrasting track of sumptuous minimal synths on “Discrete (the Market).” “Peak Chroma” (video below) draws out a minor chord, successively adding overtones and a mournful melody. Eventually, the harmony progresses, with each chord is given a weighty presence corroscated by fragmentary speech samples. “Diluted Dreams” alternates sounds of children at play and traffic noises with minimal repetitions and extended held tones. Altered vocals and industrial percussion populate “Stoned Gesture.” “A Kind of Promise” closes the recording with glacially paced piano and cello (with spoken word around the edges). An enthralling listen.

“Peak Chroma’ is one of two tracks on a softer focus featuring sung lyrical content. The lyrics for it started as an iPhone Notes entry. This entry was a reminder to not fall into traps of nostalgia and the second-guessing that sometimes follows that. Reminiscing on something that not only is in the past but is something that is never coming back.” – Claire Rousay

Peak Chroma Video:

claire rousay a softer focus release show 

April 10th, 2021 | 3:30 PM PDT

Livestreamed on Bandcamp

$10 | Tix + info

Stephanie Cheng Smith


A Wave Press

Stephanie Cheng Smith inhabits sound sculptures of two different varieties for the extended compositions on her latest A Wave Press release Forms. The first, “Birds,” uses b-z-bowls, which the composer describes as, “an instrument of suspended, vibrating plastic bowls that are filled with and muted by various objects (i.e. bells, balls, beads, clips, and cups).” B-z-bowls create a plethora of textures, from subtle shakes to swaths of white noise, and Cheng Smith does an excellent job using these deliberately restricted means with artful pacing. “Fish” is for violin, dark energy synthesizer (!), and laptop. It was performed within Anja Weiser Flower’s “Cosm, Organization-Construction, Second Instance” at Human Resources Los Angeles. Thus, the performance occurs within an artwork, using it both as an acoustic and aesthetic site. Thrumming, serrated synths against an insistent bass drone accompany violin harmonics and glissandos. This texture is replaced by bubbling percussion and short wave style distortions in an extended middle section. Gears shifting in grinding gestures signal a final section in which the electronics begin to spin out, joined by upper register scratched violin textures. The registral spectrum is filled out with muscular noise envelopes down a couple octaves from the main fray, only to have the top drop out and the bass register plumbed with muscularity. A denouement of progressively spaced out static attacks followed by an oscillating third on dark synth concludes the piece. The album title points out one of the most compelling aspects of Cheng Smith’s compositions: their unerring formal designs.

Matt Sargent 


Erik Carlson, violin; T.J. Borden, cello

The first iteration of “Tide” was in 2015 for double bassist Zach Rowden, who overdubbed a ten instrument cluster of sustained notes and pealing harmonics. The composer, Matt Sargent, fed sine tones to Rowden while he played, each one exhorting him to match it in realt time, creating an evolving of upper register harmonics. The current release captures two new versions of the piece, both for higher instruments and correspondingly more stratospheric results. The first is for ten overdubbed violins and ten overdubbed cellos. The two instruments’ span of harmonics interact, creating a texture that is sometimes gritty and at others glassine. The second version is for ten violins. Its shimmering harmonics are offset by downward glissandos that provide a counterweight to the altissimo highs. Both new versions of Tide supply significant and intriguing  diversity within prevailing sonic density. 

Taylor Brook

Star Maker Fragments

Tak Ensemble: Laura Cocks, flute; Madison Greenstone, clarinet; Marina Kifferstein, violin; Charlotte Mundy, voice; Ellery Trafford, percussion; 

Taylor Brook, electronics

Star Maker Fragments is a setting by Taylor Brook of fragments from Olaf Stapledon’s 1937 novel Star Maker. A history of billions of years and an early example of multiverse theories, Star Maker is one of the most ambitious early science fiction books and remained influential for generations. The ensemble and Brook create a suitably interstellar landscape, one that encompasses extended techniques and sounds both lush and at times akin to the bleeps on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. It is left to vocalist Charlotte Mundy to carry the narrative components of Star Maker Fragments forward, which she persuasively does through spoken word and singing. One of the most imaginative sections of the piece is “Musical Universe,” which in the book is depicted as a universe that contains only music and no physical space. Tak and Brook respond to this prompt in a rapturous vein. Brook is an abundantly creative composer to watch.

-Christian Carey